Excited? You’re about to find your perfect tropical island experience in this guide to the 7 Best Islands Off Cairns! In this blog, I’m going to break down my top recommendations for islands to visit, how to get there, and hot tips for your time there!
There’s no doubt that when people visit Cairns and Far North Queensland, they’re enticed by the thought of warm, balmy, tropical days. If you’re picturing yourself hangin’ out on the beach of a tropical island during your visit to Cairns, this guide is going to help you make the perfect choice for that once-in-a-lifetime experience!
And regardless of what you consider to be the ‘perfect island’ day – snorkelling, beach lounging, kayaking, scuba diving, sea walker, fish feeding, untouched beauty, cocktails overlooking the ocean… You’re bound to find what you’re looking for in one of the islands below.
7 Best Islands Off Cairns – Discover Your Paradise!
Before I dive into the seven best islands off Cairns, I just want to clarify one thing… These islands are not listed in any particular order. Everyone’s expectations and bucket lists look different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
Use the guide below to help you determine the best option for you. You can also use the menu in the sidebar to jump to specific islands.
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1. Fitzroy Island
Only a 45 minute ferry ride from the Cairns Marina, and you’ll find yourself on Fitzroy Island
The island is truly a tropical paradise with plenty of things to do for the adventurous at heart.
You can enjoy Fitzroy Island as a half day, full day, or even stay over night at either the Fitzroy Island Resort, or the campgrounds.
You have probably heard of Nudey Beach… It ranked #1 best beach in Australia’s 101 Best Beaches awards of 2018 and has consistently been considered as one of the most pristine beaches in Australia.
Nudey Beach is a short walk (around 10-15 minutes) from the main jetty on Fitzroy Island. It is the perfect spot for laying out the towel, soaking up the sun year round, or dipping into the warm tropical waters and watching the colourful and vibrant marine life in the coral reef on the beach fringes.
Fitzroy Island Is Great For…
- Sunbathing (I recommend Nudey Beach… P.S. It isn’t a nudist beach)
- Nature Lovers (Turtle Rehabilitation Centre)
How To Get To Fitzroy Island
There are plenty of options if you’re wanting to visit Fitzroy Island, all of which you can book online.
- (HALF DAY) Return Ferry To/From Fitzroy Island
- (FULL DAY) Return Ferry To/From Fitzroy Island
- Combined Reef Tour With Moore Reef
- Book A Night At The Resort (Transfers Included)
2. Green Island
Green Island is also just a 45 minute ferry ride from the Cairns Marina… Just in a slightly different direction.
The island itself is smaller that Fitzroy Island and does not have the same level of bushwalking tracks.
The beach at Green Island is sandier than Fitzroy Island. This makes it more comfortable for sunbathing and for families with young children. Fitzroy Island has a coral beach, making it more difficult to walk on… (except Nudey Beach which is sandy)
For the adventurer, there are plenty of things to do on Green Island… Snorkeling, scuba diving, Green Island SeaWalker, Glass Bottom Boat, Semi-Submersible Vessel, helicopter scenic flights, and more.
If you’re wanting the best snorkeling experience on Green Island, I highly recommend this tour – a small sail boat with a limited capacity.
I find that most people that come back from this tour praise them for the small, intimate group and the exclusive patch of vibrant coral that you’re taken too (on the fringes of Green Island).
The sail boat takes you to parts of the reef which are not easily accessible when snorkeling from Green Island’s beach.
Green Island Is Great For…
- Young Families (half day options and sandy beaches)
- Relaxing Day Sunbathing
- The Adventurer! (many different water activities)
- Snorkeling (via this sailboat tour)
How To Get To Green Island
Green Island is easily accessible from Cairns. You can book any of the options below online.
- Half Day Ferry Tickets
- Full Day Ferry Tickets
- Book A Night At The Resort (Transfers Included)
- Sailboat To Green Island (Day Tour)
3. Frankland Islands
Frankland Islands are actually a small group of Islands. They can be found just off the coast, slightly south of Cairns. These islands are the perfect option if you’re looking for that completely untouched, back-to-nature vibe.
This company is the only operator who has a permit to visit Normanby Island for a full day visit (one of the Frankland Islands).
They have multiple mooring locations at Normanby Island. This means they can choose the best location on the day to give you the best experience depending on the weather, tide and other factors.
It is not possible to do this tour/ferry as a half-day option.
And because of its unique geographical location, it makes an outstanding option for some of the best snorkeling in the region.
You can look forward to around 4-4.5 hours on the island where you can explore the vibrant marine life. You’ll find hard and soft corals, anenome, giant clams, manta rays, green sea turtles, parrot fish, giant wrasse, and so much more!
You can also enjoy one of the snorkel safari adventures, scuba diving tours, or guided island walks. And if you have kids with you, they’ll be kept entertained with a fun pirate treasure hunt.
You won’t find any type of development on the island, including toilets! It makes for a truly raw experience which you’ll struggle to find anywhere else.
Instead, the boat runs shuttles back and forth between the main vessel and the island for people to use the onboard toilets.
Frankland Islands Are Great For…
The raw and untouched nature of Frankland Islands is just one reason why it lands on my list of best islands off Cairns… and making it perfect for…
- Nature enthusiasts
- A raw experience
- A more intimate / exclusive tour
- Marine Life
- Escaping The Crowds
How To Get To Frankland Islands
Full Day Ferry / Tour – This company is the only company with the necessary permits to visit the island.
Fully Inclusive Full Day Ferry / Tour – As above but includes access to kayaks and stand up paddleboards
4. Low Isles
Low Isles are found off the coast of Port Douglas, and are actually made up of two small islands covering around four acres of coral cay surrounded by coral reef.
It’s the smaller of the two islands that catches our attention for a day trip from Cairns to Port Douglas…
The lighthouse quaintly pokes out of the palm trees on this tiny little patch of paradise… making it the perfect cliche of a tropical island, and probably a spitting image for what you have pinned to your vision board.
The island itself is only a short 15km boat cruise from Port Douglas, and has a number of different ferries and tours that visit the isle. This means you can enjoy Low Isles as either a half day, or a whole day adventure.
The larger island (Woody Island) is uninhabited and is not accessible to tourists – it has a large bird population and it’s an important part of the ecosystem for marine life so it’s left untouched.
You’ll find that the reef is very close to thew aters edge on the island, meaning that you don’t have to go out far to be able to experience some incredible marine life. This makes for easy and enjoyable snorkeling.
Low Isles is Great For…
- Snorkeling adventure
- Half Day or Whole Day
- Relaxing On The Beach
- History Lovers
How To Get To Low Isles
You can book ferry and tour tickets online below…
- Morning or Afternoon Low Isles Snorkeling Tour
- Afternoon Cruise on Luxury Catamaran Cruise
- Sunset Sailing Cruise on Luxury Catamaran
- Full Day Low Isles and Reef Cruise on Luxury Catamaran (includes guided snorkel, glass bottom boat, gourmet lunch, morning and afternoon tea, etc.)
5. Michaelmas Cay
Michaelmas Cay is a sand cay island off Cairns and is part of the Michaelmas Reef around 40km off the coast of Cairns (17km from Green Island)
The cay itself is an official sanctuary for a large population of birds. A lot of the cay cannot be accessed by people visiting, so the birds and their nests are not disturbed. You’ll find it roped off.
If you’re scared of birds, or feel like a large presence of birds to be off-putting, I recommend looking at one of the other islands off Cairns.
But if you love wildlife, and you’re keen to chill out on the squeeky white sand, the Michaelmas Cay is a great option for you.
When snorkeling off Michaelmas Cay, you’ll notice the reef is not in one continuous patch like you’ll find elsewhere. Instead, you’ll find a large bed of soft, white sand, with batches of coral – it’s an experience that’s truly unique for day trip islands off of Cairns.
It’s what I imagine an octopus’ garden to look like!
Only one boat takes you to Michaelmas Cay, and only a limited number of people can visit the cay in any one day, so I really recommend you book in advance (you can do this online).
Michaelmas Cay Is Great For…
- Nature Lovers (Bird Sanctuary)
- Sunbathing On The Sand Cay
- Scuba Diving
How To Get To Michaelmas Cay
There is only one company that travels out to Michaelmas Cay, and they have limited capacity on their luxury vessel – maximum 36 persons. I highly recommend booking in advance using the link below if you want to secure your spot as it’s a highly popular vessel and day trip island off Cairns.
6. Lizard Island
Lizard Island is actually a tiny, privately owned archipelago of small islands North-East of Cooktown (North of Cairns and Port Douglas).
This secluded group of islands make up a mini-paradise and are home to a highly exclusive and luxury adults-only resort. The likes of Prince Charles, Teri Hatcher, Greg Normal, Russel Crowe, Orlando Bloom, Ellen De Generes (and wife Portia de Rossi) and many others have holidayed on the island!
A night on Lizard Island will set you back from $2000 per night…
I know what you’re thinking… No… I’ve never stayed on Lizard Island, but it’s definitely on my bucket list for some day when I’m rich (or Russel Crowe feels like shouting me a vacay)… Until then, it holds its prized place squarely on my vision board.
If you don’t want to stay on the island, you can still visit the island as a day trip, and unlike the rest of the islands mentioned in this most, you get there by small plane.
Keep in mind that because you need to charter a plane to get there, it’s going to cost. You’ll still be looking at spending around $650-850 per person for the day (7 hours round trip, including lunch).
The low flying scenic flight leaves from Cairns and meanders over the Great Barrier Reef, taking around an hour each way.
You can enjoy aerial views of crisp, white sand cays, spotting turtles in the shallows of the reef and spectacular views over multiple reefs.
Once you arrive on Lizard Island, you’ll enjoy relaxing on the secluded beaches, snorkeling in crystal clear waters, and making friends with the local green sea turtles, clown fish, rays, and huge array of marine life that call the archipelago home.
You can even try your hand at sea kayaking in a fully transaparent kayak! Aaaahmazing!
Lizard Island Is Great For…
- A high-end, luxury experience
- Getting away from the crowds
- A Once-In-A Lifetime Experience
How To Get To Lizard Island
Lizard Island can only be accessed by chartering a plane. You can book your trip to Lizard Island using the link below.
- Scenic Flight Day Trip – The Lizard Island website has the most updated information
7. Dunk Island
Dunk Island is off the coast of Mission Beach (South of Cairns) and can be accessed by Water Taxi. It can be enjoyed as either a half day or whole day experience.
You’ll find camping facilities on Dunk Island, so choosing to stay the night on the island is an option.
If you’re looking for more variety in your day, this tour lets you explore three different islands in three hours. You’ll be shuttled the short distance between each of the islands by water-taxi (closed in boat).
Okay… So I get that technically this last part means that there are more than 7 islands mentioned in this blog because you’re getting 3 in 1… But I figured you’d forgive me.
You also have the option of taking a full day tour from Mission Beach out to Dunk Island then further out to two Outer Great Barrier Reef snorkeling locations. If you only have one day and you want to get the most out of your Great Barrier Reef Experience. This is a brilliant option!
Dunk Island Is Great For…
- Families looking for an adventurous day out
- Half Day Filled With Variety
- Island Experience
How To Get To Dunk Island
Dunk Island is only a short distance from Mission Beach. You’ll meet the ferry/boat on the main beach at Mission Beach and you’ll be shuttled across from there. You can book your ferry/boat tour online using the links below.
- Water Taxi – Half or Whole Day
- Dunk Island + 2 Outer Great Barrier Reef Snorkel Locations (Full day tour)
- 3 Islands in 3 Hours Water Taxi Tour
**At the time of writing this, the 3 Islands in 3 Hours tour only leaves 3 days a week at 12.30pm (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). If this is a ‘must-do’ for you, plan your other tours around this and book in advance to avoid missing out.
And there you have it… The 7 Best Islands Off Cairns! The variety of the islands in Far North Queensland never ceases to amaze me. There is seriously something for everyone!
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